A year in review

As the year draws to a close Anna Mitchell looks back at 2010 with four leading audiovisual consultants across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We discover which technologies shaped the year and what impact they had on the market.

In order to provide you with an overview of technology developments and trends we decided to ask consultants - the people who are constantly watching the market and specifying up-to-date and relevant systems - what they thought of the market, particular technologies and outstanding products.

Bryan Sindayen a consultant at PMK International’s Dubai office, says: “The AV installation market is indicating continuous growth in the education sector since classrooms are becoming more sophisticated and demanding a more immersive environment for learning. An example is the education market in Qatar. They have been developing an area called “Education City” where universities are equipped with state of the art AV systems.”

Frode Bye, a consultant at Cowi and based in Norway, agrees that education has proved strong throughout 2010. “Universities, colleges and primary schools all proved to be robust markets for us in Norway,” he begins. “And, it’s government money that’s driving it. We see the education market starting to use videoconferencing equipment more and more,” he adds.

Bye notes that videoconferencing has also made a greater impact on the corporate world this year, arguing that the technology is getting more popular as it gets easier for people to use. “User interfaces have become better in later years. It’s much easier to just touch the screen and most interfaces are very intuitive. People are used to using these kinds of devices in everyday life.

Sam Wise, a consultant with Arup, is working on the forefront of environmental issues with many clients. He is convinced that a key driver for video conferencing sales is reduction of travel. “Finally, VC is almost reliable, even with multiple sites participating. We have probably halved our out of town meeting attendance in the last year and our clients are trying to achieve the same results,” he said.

And, returning to interfaces, Thomas Hülsmann, of Berlin based consultancy Thomnet Media Engineering, notes that multitouch has made quite an impact on this year. “3M is coming out with a 22” monitor that has the ability to recognise 30 touches,” he points out by way of example.

It’s not just the products that are getting cleverer; humans are developing too according to Hülsmann. “More or less people are used to using standard commands, such as the pinch movement that was first presented by Apple. This is a technology that has seen different companies jump on the train, creating new technologies and new panels. It’s very interesting to note the prices dropping for such panels. It’s a really great technology and it gives people a way to access these mobile devices”.

You can’t mention mobile devices and 2010 without talking about the iPad. Its development has sparked an app development frenzy with many AV manufacturers creating their own apps, largely for control via iPads or even iPhones. The people that have probably felt the pressure of the iPad most acutely are large companies - such as AMX and Crestron - that create what Hülsmann describes as media control units. “As far as I know,” he adds, “they made a lot of money just from their displays and now they have a big competition, which is a tenth of the price and a lot more versatile.”

“Something I’ve also noticed this year,” continues Hülsmann, “is the amount of DSP based speakers. I believe at the very beginning there was only the Intellivox series from Duran Audio. Now you have companies such as Tannoy, RCF and even a small company called Seeburg. From my standpoint you can solve a lot of integration issues with these products. I think it has a big impact when you make the final design, when everything is integrated into the room and you need to make changes. With DSP based speakers, it’s not only the frequency you can adjust, you can work with the sound beam.” Wise agrees: “this is not only happening in the compact column speaker format, but also on the whole range of modular music reinforcement line arrays. Duran was first again in that market with their fine Target system, but has been joined by Martin Audio’s MLA. There are more coming.”

Wise adds “and another ongoing technical snag is nearly solved, that of latency in digital audio distribution systems. New and powerful products from companies like Optocore and Reidel have always had virtually no transmission delay, but now there are all kinds of interfaces available marrying these with market-leading digital audio consoles. Completely integrated systems having simultaneous stage monitor, house and broadcast mixers sharing stage boxes and serving site wide uncompressed audio distribution with multi-track recording onto computer-based hard disks are finally easy to put together using your favourite manufacturer’s products. The Audio Engineer Society standard committee is working hard to get agreement on protocols sufficiently strong to provide a solid basis for product interworking.”

“Digital video distribution and management have gained prevalence in 2010,” interjects Sindayen. “Manufacturers have been actively developing products for digital video distribution either copper or fibre based. This has introduced ease and flexibility for integrators in system design and infrastructure.

Hülsmann and Bye both agree that the last year has seen a wider prevalence of digital video, often in areas where it wasn’t widespread before. “We’ve had video capability for some years of course but it’s really being used more and more,” says Bye. “In some of the more complex lecture rooms the systems become quite sophisticated. Lectures are sent out from rooms to the internet, students can view them sitting in other locations and various sources can be pulled in to be shown [on the feeds].”

Sindayen pinpoints Magenta Research’s Voyager video matrix switching product. He argues that it is a “promising piece of equipment for the transition of analogue and digital video signals.

“Video distribution is going digital since many of the computers available on the market today include some form of digital video output, such as DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort, and some current notebook models have no analogue (VGA) video output. Thus, it is necessary to allow for a smooth transition between AV devices with analogue outputs (devices with legacy video output such as VGA or RGBHV) and AV devices with digital video outputs such as DVI, HMDI and Display Port and other future digital formats.”

Digital video leads us smoothly to digital signage. The market has long been hailed a saving application for AV but its many critics see small margins and argue that its a flooded market. How did the market fare in 2010? Bye says he’s seen a greater uptake of digital signage in education establishments but wonders if the end users really know how to utilise it effectively. Sindayen pinpointed Christie Micro Tiles as an important product release. He said in addition to the digital signage market, the product had found its way into event production and command and control centres.

We probably can’t round up the year without mentioning 3D. It’s doubtful that many will have missed the rise of 3D display technology throughout 2010 but its also quite likely that a lot have discounted it as a hyped up consumer phenomenon. Sindayen points out that the technology continued to gain prevalence throughout the year but concedes that it has still made no impact in the professional market.

Hülsmann seems slightly more excited by developments, arguing that a lot of consumer products ultimately make their way into professional applications. 2010 has seen prices for 3D products drop, he says, pinpointing a recent release by Panasonic of a 3D camera priced at just €2,000.

“Of course,” he adds, “3D displays are compatible – you can use a 3D display for 2D technologies.” He argues that this flexibility is good for integrators and as prices drop then displays that are capable of showing 3D content are likely to find their way into more and more professional installations.

The consultants’ views that we’ve relayed in this article only provide a snapshot of the year and undoubtedly there are technological developments, market transformations and outstanding products that have been omitted. But, even as a snapshot it provides a useful picture of an industry that is continuing to evolve, mature and innovate. And, with change afoot, the next issue of InAVate will explore technologies set to shake up the market in 2011.

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